Accepting Traditional Gender Roles Does Not Mean Relationship Inequality


Ready to put a ring on it? Survey says that’s still the man’s job. Both men and women overwhelmingly believe that the man should propose to the woman (in a heterosexual relationship), according to a study conducted at the University of California in Santa Cruz.

Researchers surveyed 277 male and female undergrads about their preferences surrounding traditional marriage roles. While two-thirds of respondents said they’d “definitely” want the man to propose, not a single man or woman said they’d “definitely” want the woman to do so. The students were a little more flexible where marital name changes were concerned: 60 percent of men said they’d want to keep their surname, and 60 percent of women said they’d want to change theirs.

There’s a reason that students at an otherwise progressive-leaning university still adhere to such traditional gender roles: it’s all in the narrative. “What people like with a marriage proposal in particular is a story,” says first study author Rachael Robnett, a UCSC psychology graduate student. “A story that people can understand can lend legitimacy to the fact that this couple is now engaged.” The more a proposal narrative follows a familiar, established script, the more it seems to validate the union in outsiders’ eyes. It’s something we’ve all seen a thousand times: the man takes a knee, opens the ring box, and gives a tender speech; the woman starts sobbing and enthusiastically nodding her head. For many, messing with this arrangement signals a lack of conviction. In fact, research has shown that if the woman proposes, “people don’t take that marriage proposal as seriously, and they question the engagement,” Robnett says.

But Robnett cautions against assuming that honoring tradition is a setback for feminism, or a sign that the power dynamic in your relationship isn’t 50/50. “I don’t think that doing a traditional proposal connotes a lack of equality,” she says. “Every couple needs to make the decision that is right for them.”

A better way to gauge whether your bond has an even balance of power is in studying the day-to-day dynamic. And sometimes, maintaining that balance of power requires work. “It’s an additional skill set that you need to learn,” says Susan Heitler, PhD, Denver psychologist and founder of

Read more: Amary Wiggin, Women’s Health


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